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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: So far so good for Kuznetsov?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: So far so good for Kuznetsov?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? Send it on Twitter using #CapsMailNBC or by email to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

R. Pea writes: When does Alex Ovechkin’s contract end? Do the Caps go a year to 2-year contracts after his contract ends henceforth? Do we have anybody in the organization projected as the Ovechkin heir apparent? Whatever happened to the Forsberg kid and if we don't have him in the org, how did he pan out?

Wow, where to begin….

Let me first note that if I thought this was a prank, I would not answer, but I have read this email several times and I am pretty sure you are being sincere about Filip Forsberg in which case...I have some bad news.

Forsberg was traded to the Nashville Predators for Martin Erat and Micahel Latta in April 2013. That’s it. There was not first-round draft pick included, no superstar I forgot to mention, just those two. If you didn’t know Forsberg had been traded then I’ll go out on a limb and say that you haven’t heard of either Erat or Latta. Good. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. Let’s not dwell on the return. At the end of the day, the Caps traded away a star prospect for two players who are no longer in the league. Forsberg, still just 25, already has 150 goals and 163 assists in 401 games played for the Predators.

It easily the worst trade in franchise history and will be remembered as one of the worst trades in this history of the NHL.

Other things you may have missed since 2013: The Caps won a Stanley Cup, the Redskins still don't have a quarterback, Kim Kardashian is still famous for some reason, the 2017 Oscars were hilarious and Steve Harvey laughed the hardest, I still don't know who Lorde is and it makes me feel old and as for politics...nah, let’s move on.

Ovechkin’s contract runs through the 2020-21 season. He is eligible to sign a new contract at the start of the next league year (July 2020). I have no doubt that he will sign an extension, the question is how long? The only way he will get signed short-term on a year by year basis, similar to what Joe Thornton gets in San Jose, is if he wants to. Maybe he wants to leave the door open for returning to the KHL or maybe he doesn’t want a long-term deal because he doesn’t want to be a depth player by the end of it. If he goes to the Caps and says I want five more years, the team is not going to give the greatest player in the history of the organization a one-year counter offer.

As for who comes after Ovechkin, no, there are no superstar, franchise players currently in the system. Connor McMichael is the best forward prospect in the organization and I think he could possibly be a top-line center. Players of Ovechkin’s caliber are hard to find as in about once in a generation, especially when you’re a team that has success and gets only late-round draft picks.

Nathan S. writes: Thoughts on Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov's season so far? Both slumped last year and needed big bounce-back years.

Kuznetsov has been good, but quieter than I expected. I thought he would come into this season and just completely dominate. In 11 games, he has five goals and four assists. He initially looked more assertive with his shooting up until Wednesday’s game when he deked a player out of his skates, but instead of shooting on the open net elected to finish the play he had already started in his head and wheeled around looking for the pass. For the most part, however, he has been good. Better than last year, but still not at the superstar level we have seen in the past. When he has a really good season, he tends to break out around January so let’s see where he is at that point.

As for Orlov, I like his play a lot. The occasional turnover is still there, but he has been strong. I made the mistake of thinking when the blue line was shorthanded at the start of the season with Michal Kempny injured and Tyler Lewington playing every night due to cap reasons, surely people will see how good he is as he is one of only two healthy top-four defensemen on the roster and that will quiet the criticism and calls to trade him. Never underestimate the power of first impressions, I guess.

Look, if you still see Orlov as that turnover, high-event player that he was when he first came to Washington, then that’s all you are ever going to see. Yes, he still has the occasional turnover, but I don’t know how people could watch the first 14 games of the season and walk away not thinking he is an incredibly important piece of the blue line.

There's my tangent. Now back to the mailbag.

Benjamin C. writes: These lines are doing great but when will Tom Wilson go back to first line over T.J. Oshie? Also will we ever see Evgeny Kuznetsov on that 1st line again? His chemistry with Wilson and Alex Ovechkin is great. Also, do you think Kuznetsov hits 30 goals?

We obsess over the lines heading into the season and really throughout, but at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter all that much until the playoffs. I’m not dismissing your question because I think it is an important one, but in an 82-game schedule, I think we will see a variety of different line combinations to mix things up. It’s a long season and things get stale. Coaches typically don’t settle on lines until right before the playoffs. Until then, it’s a good way to get your team’s attention.

Now, back to your question. Oshie is not going to stay on that line forever. He is 32 and has played some hard minutes in his career. I am sure Reirden would love to get him back down to the second line and reduce his minutes. For now, the team is too hot claiming a possible nine out of 10 points on their five-game road trip and Oshie has seven goals and 11 points in 14 games. While the team is hot, Reirden is not going to change things.

I am very surprised we have not seen more of the Ovechkin, Kuznetsov, Wilson line since the 2018 Cup run. The team has not utilized that trio all that often since then which, after you win a Cup with it, you would think they would want to see more of.

That playoff run was seen as Kuznetsov ascending to take over as the team’s top center, but last season proved that was not yet the case. He is going to have to earn top-line time before he takes it from a player as important as Backstrom. He’s not there yet.

Kuznetsov so far has five goals in 11 games. That puts him on pace for about 36. I am not sure he will get that many, but 30 is certainly in play. Considering I predicted before the season that he would lead the team in points and crack 100, I am going to ride with Kuznetsov and say, yes, he gets 30 goals. I’m not so sure that he will lead the team any more thanks to what John Carlson just did in October.

Douglas F. writes: Lars Eller has had a good offensive season so far and is doing well in the faceoff dot. Obviously he won't overtake Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom but is there a way that the Caps could think of moving Kuzy to the wing and moving Eller up to the 2nd line?

No. Center is arguably the most important position in the game. Kuznetsov is one of the top 30 centers in the league at the very least. He’s bad at faceoffs and he needs to improve defensively, but he is still one of the best players at one of the most important positions. You do not move him to wing where he would be less effective so you can promote Eller who is a good player to plug in when necessary, but who is not a top-six center.

@BelleLegacy on Twitter writes: Since I watch the Caps on TV only, never live, it’s hard to see what Evgeny Kuznetsov does differently from Nicklas Backstrom when it comes to positioning/defensive play. What do you see that Kuznetsov needs to do to better emulate the great #19? Any progress this season?

You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned positioning because that is the biggest aspect for forwards playing defense. It’s about positioning and knowing where to be and what to do when you do not have the puck. There have been times in the past where Kuznetsov was just floating in the defensive zone, seemingly skating around waiting for an opportunity to head back down the ice to the offensive zone. Positioning means getting in the way of passing and shooting lanes. I am not saying he has to be Hal Gill or Quinton Laing out there when it comes to blocking shots, but he does need to at least be positioned in a way that can make it harder for opponents to do what they want to do. Kuznetsov’s career-high in even strength blocked shots is 29. Backstrom’s career-low is 25 and that has more to do with him being in the way with his great positioning and how he can ready a play.

Kuznetsov was always quick out of the defensive zone when it looked like the Caps had the puck. Sometimes teams can win those puck battles right back so it is not helpful when your center is already halfway down the ice and your team is back on defense again. He has not been good about winning board battles and that includes on the forecheck. And then there were the faceoffs. At the end of the day, acenter cannot be trusted to start in the defensive zone if he is winning only 38.7-percent of his faceoffs like Kuznetsov did last year.

Having said that, Kuznetsov has shown incredible progress thus far. He is playing much more physically and actually delivered a couple of good hits against Toronto on Wednesday. I watched that game with Brent Johnson who at one point made a comment about Wilson throwing his body around and did a double-take when he realized it was actually Kuznetsov. I like how he is battling along the boards. His faceoffs have improved dramatically as well at 47.5-percent. That’s still not great, but you take that over the 38.7 from last year.

Nathan S. writes: What's with the NHL's desire to hurry and start the season in so early October now and then have long layoffs such as the Rangers having six days off and playing a game and then having another five days off? Does the NHL just rate so low in priorities that everything from boy band concerts to pre-season NBA gets higher priority?

The NHL starts the season at the very beginning of October to account for the bye week that is now built into every team’s schedule. What happened with the New York Rangers this season was an anomaly. Capital One Arena is a busy place, but when the arena is not available you schedule road games. The Caps’ always take their western Canada road trip early in the season when the horse show comes to Washington. Even if Madison Square Garden was booked solid, the schedule makers should have just sent the Rangers packing for a road trip. I don’t know why they didn’t, but their schedule is not a reflection of the low priority of NHL teams.

Now if I was making the schedule, I would start camp early September and the season in mid-to-late September. I’d get rid of the bye weeks and just have zero back-to-backs and get the playoffs more distance from the NBA playoffs. But that’s just me.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, send it to CapitalsMailbag@gmail.com or use #CapsMailNBC on Twitter.

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Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

Capitals GM Brian MacLellan facing an offseason full of questions and no real answers

It's the job of a general manager to plan for the future. The team will project their contracts and salary cap years ahead of time. Of course, play on the ice is the most important factor and can change a team's plans, but every good general manager enters the offseason with a plan in place knowing who he wants to re-sign, who will walk, who to draft and who to target in free agency. This year, however, is different. How do you prepare for an offseason when you know...practically nothing? That's the task that lays before every NHL general manager right now, including Capitals GM Brian MacLellan.

Heading into the 2019 draft, the salary cap ceiling had not been set and it was rumored that the actual number would be below the initial projections. MacLellan called it "frustrating" to have uncertainty with the cap heading into a key date in the offseason.

Thanks to the coronavirus, there is much more uncertainty regarding this year's offseason. MacLellan has to prepare for both the playoffs and the offseason not knowing if the players will get back on the ice, an uncertain cap number that seems unlikely to rise next season, no date for the combine, no date for the draft, no date for free agency and no idea whether next season will begin on time or could get pushed back by the current season.

"It is difficult," MacLellan said in a conference call on Monday. "I guess we talk over all the possible scenarios and you try to prepare mentally for anything. What happens to the cap? Does the cap go down because revenues are going to decrease? Do they artificially keep it where it’s at? So, the answer to those questions puts us on pause on your [unrestricted free agent] negotiations. How do we proceed given both those scenarios? Those are just open-ended questions and we discuss them, but we don’t come up with any answers."

And there won't be any answers until the world begins to emerge from this global pandemic and the NHL can get some clarity on when players could potentially return to the ice.

Once the world is ready to return to some semblance of normalcy, however, it is not as if everything can return to business as usual.

One of the major events of the offseason is the draft. Both the scouting combine and draft, set for early and late June respectively, have been postponed. In addition, travel restrictions and health concerns greatly limited what the team's scouts were able to do even before everything was paused.

"The amateur guys, they had some big tournaments at the end that got canceled on them," MacLellan said. "It's a big part of their year. I think they always look forward to the tournaments and finalizing their lists and reports and it kind of got grounded to a halt at the end of this, at the end of the season for us. I talk to [assistant general manager Ross Mahoney] a lot about what we can do to keep guys engaged, the use of video. Can we do a little more phone interviews? We look for ways to stay engaged creatively and to see if we can improve on our process of finding players."

There are also logistical issues with changing the offseason calendar. The league year officially begins on July 1 and NHL player contracts expire on June 30 for any player on the final year of his deal. Should the season extend deep into the summer -- MacLellan noted the NHL had asked for building availability dates for the month of August -- those contracts would have to be extended.

“I think the League brought up that in the last call that it would be extended through August if that was the case," MacLellan said. "If that’s the route we were going down, the contracts I guess would have to be approved by the [NHLPA] still too, but they would go to the end of August, if that was the date they chose.”

That is a positive, but it will still be hard to prepare for free agency without knowing what the salary cap will be or when it will take place. That makes it difficult to know what the team can spend on its on free agents, let alone on players they can bring in. The Caps are a veteran-laden team with several players signed to long-term contracts when it was presumed the cap would continue rising. Even one year without the cap raising could quickly put Washington in a bind.

And while MacLellan is still trying to wrap his head around that, this is all being done not knowing if this season is over or not. Will there be a playoff for the Caps to further evaluate their players? Should MacLellan prepare for next season as if the Cup window is still open? It's hard to tell if the Caps can continue competing for the Cup without a postseason to evaluate.

And so for general managers across the league, people whose job it is to prepare for the future, they are all left with more questions than answers.

"I don't think we have answers to any of those questions," MacLellan said.

He added, "If we did (play) through August, could we have a couple of months off and then start back up in November? What do they do with that cap number? I think there are so many questions that we haven't even considered that'll pop up given whatever the result is at the end of this. Again, the league has been very open to anybody asking questions of giving recommendations. So all we can do is try and prepare for different scenarios that we see coming and do the best we can do."

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Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

Kuznetsov tips in OT winner for Caps' 6th straight simulation win

A two-goal rally for the Minnesota Wild forced overtime, but Evgeny Kuznetsov proved to be the hero for the Capitals in a 4-3 win in the latest NHL 20 sim. The win is Washington's sixth straight simulated win.

Result: Caps 4, Wild 3 OT

1st period

0-1 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Mats Zuccarello and Zach Parise

2nd period

1-1 Caps goal: Jakub Vrana from Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie

2-1 Caps goal (power play): Evgeny Kuznetsov from Tom Wilson and Dmitry Orlov

3-1 Caps goal: Alex Ovechkin from Nick Jensen and Nicklas Backstrom

3rd period

3-2 Wild goal: Joel Eriksson Ek from Zach Parise and Ryan Suter

3-3 Wild goal: Alex Galchenyuk from Kevin Fiala and Mikko Koivu

Overtime

4-3 Caps goal: Evgeny Kuznetsov from Alex Ovechkin and John Carlson


How the Caps won

1. The second period

Minnesota held a 1-0 lead after the first, but Washington rallied to take control with three goals in the second period. Jakub Vrana got things started with a backhand goal off his own rebound less than three minutes into the second frame. Later in the period, Tom Wilson forced a kick-out save from goalie Devan Dubnyk and the rebound went right to Kuznetsov on the back door for the open net. Alex Ovechkin made it 3-1 with a breakaway goal.

2. Rebounds

This was not Dubnyk's best game. All three of Washington's regulation goals came off of rebounds and Dubnyk showed poor rebound control, giving the puck up in high-danger areas. Even on Ovechkin's breakaway goal, Dubnyk denied the initial opportunity but Ovechkin was able to grab his own rebound and backhand it in.

3. A critical faceoff

Kuznetsov won the opening faceoff to start overtime and that was it. That was the game. Kuznetsov would go on to score on that first shift to win the game as the Caps never gave up possession of the puck. They controlled it from the faceoff to the goal ensuring Minnesota never had an opportunity to win it.

Next game

The Caps were scheduled to play the Florida Panthers on the road Saturday. The game will be simulated with NHL 20 on NBC Sports Washington at 7 p.m.

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